When you are first diagnosed with a mental illness, it can be very confusing regarding the number of people you are going to meet on your journey to better health. All of these people are here to help you, but what exactly are the psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists doing to help you? Here is a short guide on the difference between all the medical professionals you will meet when you are diagnosed with a mental illness.
A psychotherapist is an umbrella term for any professional trained to treat people for their emotional issues. A psychotherapist can be a psychologist, social worker, counselor, or psychiatrist.
A psychologist is an expert in the field of psychology which is the “science of the mind or of mental states and process”. Psychologists have to attend graduate school and obtain their doctoral degree, a PhD or PsyD. The difference between a PhD and PsyD, is that PsyD psychologists are trained specifically for clinical work, while PhD often focus on research. Psychologists often have to complete years of internships to gain further training and experience. They also must be licensed by their state boards of psychology. Psychologists are not medical doctors and can not prescribe medication. Psychologists are licensed to do counseling, psychotherapy, and provide treatment for mental disorders.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness via medication. A psychiatrist usually has 4 years of medical school, followed by an internship and residency. They have a M.D. A psychiatrist can write prescriptions for medication. Psychiatrists must be licensed as a medical doctor in their state of residency. They must also pass the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology’s Psychiatry Certification Examination. Many psychiatrists have a special focus such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They will often work together with a psychologist to provide treatment for mental illness.
A therapist is a person trained in psychological methods to help patients. Therapists can be psychoanalysts, marriage counselors, social workers and life coaches among others. A therapist provides support and guidance and helps patients make decisions and clarify feelings to solve problems. Selecting a therapist is a personal experience. You should always feel comfortable and welcomed by your therapist, but also consider their licensing and professional credentials. It may take time to find the right therapist for you, so feel free to shop around for the right fit.
A licensed mental health counselor has at least a master’s degree in psychology or counseling. They are focused solely on providing therapy to individuals, families or couples. The mental health counselor has to have 2 years of additional experience working with a mental health professional after graduate school in order to be licensed. They are qualified to evaluate and treat mental health problems, with much of the emphasis on working with problems of normal living rather than mental illness.
A clinical social worker has at least a master’s degree in social work and very specialized training. Social workers provide case management and hospital discharge planning. They can also act as an advocate for the patients. Some social workers also practice psychotherapy. There are many different types of licensure depending on the state in which they are licensed.
Psychiatric or mental health nurses have specialized training in providing mental health services. They often work with the doctors to form an individualized therapy and medication program for their patients. Some nurses can prescribe and monitor medications depending on the states where they practice.
Here is a quick cheat sheet for clarification: